–Los Angeles, California
The current Toyota 4Runner dates all the way back to when “TiK ToK” was a Billboard #1 hit, not a social media app. In fact, one of Kesha’s other songs kept playing in my head while I was driving around in this fashionably anachronistic 2023 4Runner 40th Anniversary: “D-I-N-O-S-A, U R a dinosaur.”
Whether referring to myself or the fifth-gen 4Runner, we may never know, but unlike me, the SUV has managed to remain hip 13 years later – heck, 2021 was its best-selling year in history. To be fair, Toyota has made some content revisions since the debut of the SUV, making Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning standard in 2020, and the styling has been altered a couple times in the last decade. But the changes from 2010 to 2023 are slight at best.
Gallery: 2023 Toyota 4Runner 40th Anniversary Review
The same port-injected 4.0-liter V6 and five-speed automatic transmission are there, as is an infotainment system that makes my old Zune music player feel sophisticated. Lane departure prevention isn’t available, and the SR5 Premium–based 40th Anniversary doesn’t get a surround-view camera. And while a height-adjustable driver’s seat makes for a decently comfortable command perch, the fixed-height passenger side cuts down on headroom for tall co-pilots. Making matters worse is a paltry 17 combined miles per gallon, a number even the thirstiest Wrangler eclipses (although for the record, I saw 18.8 mpg in mixed driving).
And yet, the euphemistically “proven” 4Runner provides a charming and lovable driving experience. The 40th’s pillowy-soft suspension is prone to lots of body roll in corners and some wallow over speed humps – the TRD Pro’s remote-reservoir dampers are much better in this regard – but the ride is smooth and unjarring over even the worst pavement. The powertrain numbers may not be impressive: 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet from 4.0 liters. But the big-bore V6 makes torque seemingly everywhere, and the dated-sounding five-speed auto changes gears more purposefully than the hunt-prone 10-speed in the Ford Bronco.
The structure feels solid and ready for anything, the Anniversary special’s interior is constructed of class-competitive plastics and Softex faux leather upholstery, and the cargo area and rear seats are spacious and accommodating. There’s a stupendous 9.6 inches of ground clearance right out of the box. And while the removable-roof Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler are hard to match for open-air fun, the 4Runner does its best with roll-down glass on the liftgate – dogs love it.
For a starting price of $41,550 including $1,395 destination, the 4Runner isn’t a great value, especially if you live in the snow belt and need to add the $1,875 required for part-time four-wheel drive. The 2023 4Runner 40th Anniversary is dearer still at $49,115 as tested, though it’s based on the higher-trim SR5 Premium and thus gets that model’s Softex upholstery, heated front seats, and satellite radio. The 40th also adds a standard sunroof, anniversary-celebrating tri-color body decals, retro “TOYOTA” grille lettering, and special dash badging denoting its 4,040-unit production run.
That nearly 50 large could easily get someone into a Ford Bronco Big Bend four-door, which would boast a more powerful and efficient turbocharged inline-four, charming exterior styling, and a removable roof and doors for al fresco fun. And while that’s likely the smarter purchase, I still can’t deny how much fun I had in my week with the 40th Anniversary. As Kesha might say if she were shopping for a 4x4, the party don’t start till you drop the rear window and kick up some dirt.
2023 Toyota 4Runner 40th Anniversary